Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #52 (Winter Blog Blast Tour Edition): Phyllis Root

h1 November 5th, 2007 by jules

Phyllis doing field research last fall for a book about Minnesota

{Note: Please see the post below this one for today’s Robert’s Snow schedule}

Eisha and I are taking part in the Winter Blog Blast Tour this week, as organized by Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray (if you missed the Summer Blog Blast Tour, it’s a multi-blog series of interviews of children’s and YA authors). Here’s the week’s master schedule of interviews, and you can scroll down to the bottom of this interview to see today’s schedule of interview goodness. This week we’ll be chatting with Jon Scieszka, Jack Gantos, and Gabrielle Zevin here at 7-Imp.

Eisha once told me in college that I speak in hyperbole, that — as Adrienne over at WATAT has said about herself before (and it’s quite endearing when she does it) — lots of things are “The Best Thing Ever.” Well, I’d like to think that I don’t do that too severely here at 7-Imp, but I bet I run the risk of looking like I do, since the way most of us bloggers roll in Blogistan is that we cover the books we like and interview the folks whose books we adore (though we do make exceptions to the former here at 7-Imp, such as here and here recently). And that would be because, well . . . no one pays us to do this, and we’re already blogging instead of sleeping. We simply don’t have time to do long, logorrheic posts about books we didn’t even like enough to finish or authors who put us to sleep.

So, will you believe me when I say that I think Phyllis Root (pictured above, doing field research last fall for a book about Minnesota) is a tremendously talented author who wows with me just about every book she writes? And has for a long time? And that she’s a master of the picture book form? ‘Cause she is. She really and truly is one of the Best Things Ever, especially when it comes to the complex and wonderful art form which is the picture book.

Now, you know I can’t stand to just slap up interview responses in a post without a proper introduction. But if I give you a comprehensive Phyllis Root 101, your eyes would cross, because she’s prolific as well as talented. This Candlewick bio will tell you the basics, the beginnings of a Phyllis Root 101, and here and here are two links that show you just some of her many titles (I dare say, considering all the many wonderful books she’s contributed to the field of children’s lit, that’s she a national treasure). As that bio puts it well, Phyllis is a master of rhythmic read-alouds, and she believes that “picture books are . . . performances that involve a child — something both of you do. And once I started thinking of them that way, I started getting much looser about making up words and playing around with rhythm.”

As for her many picture book titles, she is — arguably, I suppose — best known for her 2003 Boston Globe/Horn Book Award winner, Big Momma Makes the World (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury), which is — in the words of Publishers Weekly — a “sassy creation myth that tweaks the first chapter of Genesis.” God is depicted in this contemporary creation tale as a single mother with a baby on her hip and laundry on the other. She doesn’t mess around either: She demands light and dark, earth and sky, creepers and crawlers, and lots of folks to trade stories with on the front porch. And when the work is done, Big Momma, she is pleased all right. “That’s good,” she says. “That’s real good.” The Publishers Weekly review wrote further, “Root infuses her tale with a joyful spirit, and her lyrical vernacular trips off the tongue.” Seriously, if you haven’t seen this picture book, I’ll forgive you for putting this interview off ’til later. Go read it, and then come back. ‘Cause there’s a hole in your life.

And the list of her amazing picture books goes on. Again, you can consult the above links or just do yourself a favor and go to your local library and get every Phyllis Root book you can find — not to mention, we talk in the interview below about many of her titles (and I’ll be linking them to Phyllis’ independent bookstore of choice near her home in the Twin Cities. Or, she says, there’s also this one).

But let’s not forget that she also writes books for older children; her latest creation, a compilation of four boisterous trickster tales (two published previously and individually in 1996 — and two written in ’07) entitled Aunt Nancy and the Bothersome Visitors, is aimed at readers intermediate-aged and older and sings with an infectious exuberance. You can read my entire review of it from August here at 7-Imp.

Suffice it to say that from board books to lift-the-flap books to picture books both rollicking and gentle (and even one inspired by ancient Nordic lore) — and many covered below in the interview — Phyllis is an acclaimed master storyteller whose stories are expertly paced, rhythmically spun, beautifully- and often lyrically-rendered, and often laugh-aloud funny. With a minimum of text, she can bring about whole new worlds — along with the wide range of illustrators who have illustrated her books over the years. And her books are child magnets. The Publishers Weekly review of the nearly flawless Oliver Finds His Way (discussed below) writes, “With economic, staccato-rhythm prose (‘Oliver looks for the leaf./ No leaf./ Oliver looks for the house./ No house’), Root evokes the flashes of realization that constitute a child’s thought process.”

I also was not surprised at all to discover during this interview that she’s smart and funny and tough. Tough how? you may wonder. Well, she told me she rafted through twenty three sets of rapids on the Zambezi River and lived to tell about it. And note the keeping-a-wheel-on-a-car-with-a-twisty-tie story below.

So, come on in and sit a spell. The queen of homespun is here, and I’ve rambled enough. I’d like to thank Phyllis for taking the time to chat with me here at 7-Imp, and special thanks goes to illustrator Christopher Denise, who — at the last minute — obliged me with some of his beautiful illustrations from Oliver Finds His Way. Without further ado, here’s Ms. Root:

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photo of Phyllis Root from Candlewick's site; used with permission7-Imp: I am not speaking in hyperbole when I say that Big Momma Makes the World is, hands down, my favorite contemporary picture book. Was it difficult to write, or did all of what Publishers Weekly called the “lyrical vernacular” come easily once you found Big Momma’s voice, so to speak? How validating/satisfying was it to have what you thought was just an “exercise in voice” end up being so beloved and even award-winning? And how mind-blowing was it to see Helen Oxenbury’s interpretation of Big Momma after your text was submitted (assuming you didn’t collaborate prior to that)?

Phyllis: Thanks for your kind words about Big Momma. She is very close to my heart, not least because I tried to talk the editor out of publishing it for fear of a backlash. I’m glad I listened to my editor’s wise advice.

Once I found the voice for the story, it was pure fun to write. There was revising, of course, and I think we added the little baby, though I can’t remember for sure anymore. I know the baby was there in the first stories my family and I told on a trip out west, about how the odd geography we were seeing was made by that little baby looking for trouble and getting his hands on the earth while his momma was busy baking bread or hanging up the wash. I know, too, that in the book we had to play with the order of creation a bit because one page had nothing at all for Helen Oxenbury to illustrate. I adore her art and especially the baby. I feel incredibly lucky that she illustrated the book.

One of the most wonderful moments of my writing life was being in the London Planetarium Dome for the book launch of Big Mama (as it’s called in the British version, where instead of “That’s good. That’s real good,” Big Mama says, “Good. That’s very very good”). Three hundred children and grown ups, a face painter, juggler, and balloon artist to get things going, after which we all watched Helen’s amazing art projected on the dome while Big Mama was read out loud. When Big Mama made the dark, all the lights went out and a chorus of gasps went up. Then all the stars came out overhead, and everyone aaahed. When the story was finished, the London Gospel choir sang while all the kids waved their balloon swords and balloon sculptures in time to the singing. It was magical.

As I write this now, it occurs to me that Big Momma is also a tribute to mothers and all that they accomplish while caring for their children. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the people in government, the president and congress and such, had to care for their children and grandchildren while they worked? Would it be harder to declare war if you were changing a diaper or spooning food into a toddler’s mouth to be spit out again? Would you be more concerned with health care for all children if you were caring for your croupy grandbaby? . . . I do think that it would fundamentally change government if those for whom we govern were present and needing tending while decisions were being made. Lobbyists or a two-year-old throwing a tantrum -– who would you listen to?

7-Imp: Even your Boston Globe–Horn Book Award acceptance speech for Big Momma was brilliant (I am not just sucking up for fun; I’m a big fan, as you can tell). So, I’m curious: Did you ever get flack for making God a single mother in that book? Have you ever had any other encounters with attempted censorship, as you did with one of your Aunt Nancy stories?

Phyllis: If there was a negative response to god as a single mother, I haven’t heard about it. Rosie’s Fiddle — that book with the devil in it, as one man put it — is the only book of mine that, as far as I know, was ever overtly censored. I am always glad, though, to find Big Momma in libraries. Once, when visiting my daughter in Spain, I found a Spanish version in a library, La Gran Mamá hace el mundo, and asked my kids to take a picture of me with the book. My Spanish is sketchy, so I’m not sure what they told the librarians, but I suspect it was something like, “Yes, she’s crazy, but let us take this picture and she’ll go quietly.”

7-Imp: A lot of your books seem to be based upon or inspired by family or their experiences (Aunt Nancy, If You Want to See a Caribou, Ten Sleepy Sheep, and even Quack! and Hop!). Was Rattletrap Car, another one of my favorites, based on a real clunky car experience of your own (though I assume a beach ball as a wheel won’t get you terribly far)? The rhythm and repetition and nonsense words in that title are done well (as well as the sound effects in What Baby Wants). What advice do you have for aspiring picture book writers in the way of creating effective nonsense language (such as, “dazzleberry snazzleberry fizz”) that isn’t unbearably cute or too precious? How do you make it work so well?

Phyllis: Rattletrap Car is almost completely non-fiction, except, of course, for the repairs. I have driven too many beater cars to remember them all, and almost everything that happened to the car in the book has happened to me. I have been in cars where, at various times, the engine block cracked, the wheel fell off, the brakes failed, the alternator quit, the gas tank leaked, and other catastrophes. Once while I was driving, I saw flames licking up through a hole in the floor under my feet from insulation that had fallen out onto the hot exhaust line. Luckily, it was easy enough to stop the car, find a stick, and knock off the burning insulation before it did any real harm.

Although I have never used chocolate marshmallow fudge delight or a beach ball for repairs, I did keep a wheel on a car once with a twisty tie and another time helped temporarily fix a hole in the gas tank with a bar of soap. Just the other day as I was parking to go hiking, my car died and didn’t want to start again. Luckily, I was on a hill with no traffic around. A push to get the car rolling, a slow coast down the hill picking up speed, a pop of the clutch, and I was under power again. Careful not to kill the engine, I drove all the way back home. And called a mechanic.

I love to play with language and rhythm. As for the language in my books, all I can advise is to listen and to play with sounds. All language in a picture book is both oral and aural, meant for the ear to hear as well as for the tongue to say. Be willing to walk around muttering slippy sloppy lily loppy or clinkety clankety bing bang pop until you hear the sounds you want to capture on paper. Then do your best to spell any neologisms the way you want people to say them.

7-Imp: Speaking of advice . . . you suggested (in the way of advice to aspiring picture book authors) in your March ’06 interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith that authors not “worry about finding an illustrator but leave breathing room for illustrations to help tell the story. Do not include illustration notes unless they are absolutely necessary.” How complicated was this for the fabulous The House That Jill Built? You have said that you sat down with construction paper and made your own version, but when it came time for Delphine Durand to illustrate it, did you not have to give detailed notes? Or did she create that impressive folding-paper home in the book based solely on your text?

With The House that Jill Built, I did make a dummy of my own, but only in the course of trying to find my story after endless unsuccessful attempts. I did send that dummy off to the editor, just to show her my concept of the book. But, as far as I know, the artist never saw my dummy, and I did not include any art notes for her. I did hear from the editor that Delphine Durand, being French, had no idea who these English nursery rhyme characters were, which makes her interpretations of them really fresh. But the final book bears almost no relation to my dummy, which is as it should be — all of the fabulous making of that book is the work of the artist, editor, art editor, and designer. The dummy was only a step I took to try to find my story -– and one I suggest to other picture book writers. Dummy up your own stories for your own education in how text fits on a page, how scenes work, whether or not you have enough illustration possibilities, where page turns can be used to greatest effect. Don’t send the dummy off, but learn from it how to make your writing and your stories even better.

7-Imp: Your picture books and stories are also paced well, such as in the wonderful read-aloud Kiss the Cow! Is that difficult to pull off? Do you find yourself re-writing a great deal? And, as a fan of Will Hillenbrand’s illustrations, I want to ask: Do you often get to see the assigned illustrator’s illustrations during the process of writing your picture books, or do you see them when it’s all said and done? And do you ever get to choose with which illustrator you want to collaborate?

Phyllis: I rewrite endlessly. The simplest stories often take the most revision. It has taken me many years and, sadly, many trees-worth of paper just to learn the shape of a picture book story. Kiss the Cow! is a good example. The text was first called Sky Mother’s Magic Cow and was a kind of porquoi story I told my children one disastrous camping trip while we were waiting for someone to jump the battery in the car (which had died while the kids, bored with the rain and the mud, had entertained themselves rolling the electric windows up and down). In the original story, Annalisa had to kiss the cow to stop the milk flowing, and because she was stubborn –- never never never would she kiss a cow -– the milk still flows across the sky as the milky way. That version of the story was under contract and sketches were underway when an editor said to me, “That poor cow. Annalisa must kiss the cow to stop the milk.” Many revisions later I had managed to get Annalisa to kiss the cow, but the story felt flat to me. When I told this to my editor, she said, “Do what you need to do to make the story your own,” for which I am eternally grateful.

When I finally realized that part of what had gotten Annalisa into this pickle was that she was both curious and stubborn, I knew that her curiosity could also help her find a way to kiss the cow. What would it be like to kiss a cow? There was only one way for Annalisa to find out. (For the record, I have now kissed a cow and also know what it’s like.) Now when I am stuck on how to make the end of a story work, I often go back to beginning and find that what gets a character in trouble can be what also gets a character out of trouble.

Another example of finding the end buried in the beginning is Rattletrap Car. Once the family made to the lake, I didn’t know how to successfully convey their satisfaction to the reader. I played with splashes and picnics of many delicious foods, but none of these resolutions satisfied me, and finally I went back to the beginning. What had gotten the story going? Junie was hot. Jakie was hot. Papa and the baby were hot hot hot. So what did the resolution need to be? Junie was cool. Jakie was cool. Papa and the baby were cool cool cool. So simple, yet it took many revisions to arrive at those words.

I, too, love Will Hillebrand’s art — his sad cow tugs at my heart. Who wouldn’t want to kiss her? With Candlewick more than with any other publishers with whom I’ve worked, I often get to see sketches, illustrations, and work of the artists under consideration as well as work in progress. I am sometimes asked if I have ideas for illustrators, but since art directors and editors and book designers know more about artists and art than I ever will, I am happy to leave the decisions mostly to them. (I did once point out that the pennant at the top of a mast in an illustration for Sam Who Was Swallowed by a Shark was flying straight upwind, and the artist changed the illustration.) I have always been delighted to see the places that artists have taken my words. I cried when I saw Nicola Bayley’s art for All For The Newborn Baby, because is was so exquisitely beautiful.

7-Imp: I think that Oliver Finds His Way is pure and total brilliance. It’s almost breathtaking for children to read/hear (in that it’s so intense), yet it is so perfectly child-centered and empowering, what with Oliver’s ingenuity and courage in finding his way back home. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration for and/or writing of that title? And how incredible was it to see Christopher Denise’s rich, beautiful illustrations the first time you laid eyes on them?

Phyllis: Oliver Finds His Way began when I took my older daughter off to college and cried all 150 miles of the drive home. This is nothing new -– I cried when I took her to the first day of kindergarten, sobbed when I dropped her off for the first day of first grade. When second grade rolled around, I asked if she wanted me to take her to school on the first day.

“Are you going to cry?” she asked.

“Probably,” I said.

“That’s okay, Mom,” she said. “I can go by myself.”

Spread from Oliver Finds His Way, used with permission from illustrator Christopher Denise

When I got home from taking her to college, still crying, I started to write a rhyming picture book about lost little bears coming home to their parents who hug them and feed them porridge and give them clean underwear and tuck them safely into bed. Clearly this was a story straight from my heart, but it was a story from an adult point of view. Gradually, through many rewrites and with the help of my editor, the story changed to a child’s point-of-view and the rhyme fell away. At some point in the writing, I remembered a moment when I was very young when I had been as lost as Oliver, separated somehow from my mother in the Christmas crowds on the escalator at Wolf and Dessauer’s department story. When the leg I was clutching as I got off the escalator turned out not to be my mother’s, I did what Oliver did. I hollered as loud as I could. And my mother found me.

Oliver, used with permission from Christopher DeniseOliver, used with permission from Christopher DeniseChristopher Denise’s art is so rich and beautiful it takes my breath away. I especially love the picture where Oliver realizes that crying isn’t going to help this time.

7-Imp: Do you, by chance, have any more of those entertaining Aunt Nancy trickster tales in you to share with your devoted readers in the future?

Phyllis: I do love Aunt Nancy, but I think the stories just out in the collection Aunt Nancy and the Bothersome Visitors (two of the four stories are the original picture books, the other two were written at the same time but not published until now) are the only Aunt Nancy stories that I have in me at the moment. Once she’s defeated Mister Death, who’s left for Aunt Nancy to out-trick? But who knows? If someone else does come down the road to Aunt Nancy’s (Hard Times, for instance), you can bet your last good luck three-legged wooden buffalo nickel that she would come out on top.

7-Imp: When did you first stumble upon the Nordic tale upon which Lucia and the Light is based? And what made you want to adapt it into the lovely picture book that it is?

Phyllis: I grew up in Indiana and lived in Chicago before moving to Minnesota, a place with deep Scandinavian roots, so the Saint Lucia story was new to me. When I first heard the Italian saint story on which the Swedish legend is supposed to be based, I found it hard to believe that the story hadn’t supplanted an earlier myth about the return of the light, particularly since Scandinavia has the same long, dark winters as Minnesota. I found bits and pieces of myths, but never an exact story. For instance, Heartha was supposedly a goddess who came down the chimney as smoke and left presents for children at solstice, and in the Finnish Kalevale a witch steals the sun and the moon from the sky. It turns out, too, that Saint Lucia’s Day, December 13, was solstice on an older calendar. For years, I made notes and took them out each winter as the days got shorter and played around with a story until finally Lucia and the Light emerged. And aren’t Mary GrandPre’s illustrations luminous?

7-Imp: Yes, they’re beautiful!

You talked in Cynthia’s interview about deciding during college that you wanted to write for children (or in the 5th grade, according to your Candlewick bio!). What had you studied before then, and can you talk about your road to first publication? You write such well-crafted stories for young children. How do you stay in tune with children and come up with narrative ideas that are so appealing to them?

Phyllis: I did decide in the fifth grade to be an “authoress,” but it wasn’t until college, when I discovered a shelf of picture books in the corner of the library, that I knew I wanted to write for children and have a part in making such amazing and beautiful books. I got a degree in sociology, and after college I worked a variety of jobs to keep body and soul together –- office assistant, costume seamstress, bicycle mechanic. It wasn’t until I took a class with Marion Dane Bauer in 1979 that I discovered I could learn to do what I had yearned for years to do — write for children. After Marion’s class, I worked for five hours every morning at my old typewriter, writing stories, doing exercises, typing in the texts of books I admired. My college roommate, by then a banker in Chicago, said that I should think of her as an editor and every month I should send her a finished story. She promised not to comment on them, but having an inflexible deadline forced me to finish things, which was very good practice. In the afternoons I worked as a waitress.

My first sale to a magazine was a story called “Moon Tiger,” which later became my first picture book. Moon Tiger came out in 1985. Between those two dates was much writing, many rejections, and two babies from whom I learned to write in my head and in every spare minute I could find.

What I write seems to come out young. I find novels terribly difficult. How can anyone think of all those words? And put them together so that they make sense? Also, it may be that my memories of anything much older than picture book age are ones I don’t want to revisit, even in fiction. Or it may be that I’m just not very good at being a grown-up.

And I love picture books! There’s something so amazing about the text and art creating something more than either one. There’s magic in the turn of the page — what happens next? — right up to the last page and a satisfying ending. Plus, in writing for young children I’m free to play with language and with sounds, with rhythm, rhyme, and repetition in a way that is almost unique to picture books.

7-Imp: Are you still teaching at Vermont College’s MFA in Writing for Children program? If so, can you talk about how your teaching of writing informs your writing, if it does at all?

Phyllis: I taught at Vermont College’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults for eight years, and now I teach in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, just minutes from my home. It’s almost impossible to say how much teaching has affected my writing. I learn so much from the other instructors and from my students. And from having to give voice to things that I might simply intuitively feel, I have learned to better articulate what I know about writing.

7-Imp: A lot of our readers like to hear authors talk about this. If, by chance, you hate this question, just promptly ignore it: Tell us about your writing process (starting wherever you like: getting the idea, starting to write, under deadline, etc. Do you outline plot before you write or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?).

Phyllis: My process is very messy. I’ve never again been quite as disciplined as those early years when I wrote for hours every day. Sometimes an idea strikes me, and I’ll jot it down. (Aunt Nancy, for instance, has her beginnings scribbled on a church bulletin.) Sometimes I wallow around for days and months trying to find an idea that I feel can become a living breathing story. I make up exercises for myself. I write pages and pages and pages of the worst writing because all writing is practice, and practice makes me a better writer (and a better person -– I’m much nicer when I’ve been writing than when I’ve been avoiding it). I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. When I’m in the grip of a story I like, I wake up at night and makes notes in a notebook I keep next to my bed. I walk around during the day muttering to myself. As for process, because most of my books are picture books, I am more inclined to dummy them up after I have a draft than to outline them. I do sometimes outline for longer works, but then I often ignore my outline and go haring off in a different direction when something more interesting appears.

7-Imp: We know this is a cliché question, but as book lovers, it interests us: What books or authors influenced you as an early reader?

Phyllis: As a child I read everything I could get my hands on. We had a bookmobile that stopped twice a month down the hill from where we lived, and we would walk down the hill, my mother and sister and I, and check out books. I loved Flicka, Dicka, and Ricka and Babar (the ones written in cursive). I remember a book we had about Tuffy the tugboat, who tooted a sad note on his whistle. I was sick quite a bit as a child, and I remember lying in bed reading volume after volume of fairy tales. I loved comic books and would spend my dime allowance down at the drug store on Little Lulu and Donald Duck comics. Once, when I was sick, I asked my dad to bring home a comic book for me. He brought me a classics illustrated version of Treasure Island, and I read that, too. As I grew older, I adored Nancy Drew and read as many of her mysteries as I could put my hands on. I loved Madeline L’Engle. I read almost anything that crossed my path, including the ads in my dad’s Scientific American magazines. I read under the blankets with a flashlight. I read in the bathtub. I read during Geography class in school. I was a voracious and omnivorous reader. I still am.

7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Phyllis: My name is in the back of the last Harry Potter book.

7-Imp: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators — whom you have not yet met — over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Phyllis: This is a tough question, partly because I’ve been lucky to meet a number of writers and illustrators whose work I admire — Helen Oxenbury, Norma Fox Mazer, Brock Cole, Wendy Watson, Katherine Paterson, Karen Hesse, Kate DiCamillo, M.T. Anderson, Nicola Bayley, and lots of others. I suspect, too, that the list might change with the day that you asked the question, but today I’d invite:

Ursula Le Guin, because she is a phenomenal writer and I have admired her work for years.

Maurice Sendak, because he wrote the best picture book ever written, Where The Wild Things Are.

Mary Grand Pre, to tell her how much I love her art for Lucia and the Light.

7-Imp: Are you working on a new book or picture book or anything at all, by chance, which you can tell us about?

Phyllis: I am working on two pictures books (neither under contract), one about a scrawny cat whom nobody wants and one about a windjammer. Both grew out of a trip I took sailing in Penobscot Bay this summer. This past year, while working on a non-fiction picture book about Minnesota, I fell in love with a bog and wrote a book about it, too.

7-Imp: We like to ask people the wonderfully unusual set of questions called The Pivot Questionnaire, since who knew that, say, asking someone what their favorite sound or noise is could tell you so much about them. So here goes:

What is your favorite word?

Phyllis: I love so many of them, it’s hard to say. I’m having a lot of fun right now saying “calcareous fen.” But tomorrow it could be something completely different. Please don’t make me choose!

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Phyllis: I don’t think I have one. It’s the misuse of words to obfuscate or deceive that I don’t like.

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Phyllis: Being outside inspires me — canoeing, sailing, rafting, hiking, gardening. So does going places I’ve never been before.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Phyllis: It’s very hard for me to write when other people are around, no matter how much I love them. And it’s even harder to write when I’m anxious or afraid or depressed.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Phyllis: “Chickenspit.”

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Phyllis: I love the sound of wind in the white pines.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Phyllis: The sound of my car refusing to start.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Phyllis: I would love to be a farmer or a naturalist. If we are talking extreme fantasy, I would love to be an artist or a singer or a dancer.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Phyllis: I would not like to be a banker or be in insurance -– anything where you have to be absolutely accurate about things and don’t get to make things up.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Phyllis: If heaven exists and they let me in the door, I hope God shifts that little baby on her hip and says to me, “That’s good. That’s real good.”

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Winter Blog Blast Tour interview schedule for Monday, November 5, 2007:

18 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #52 (Winter Blog Blast Tour Edition): Phyllis Root”

  1. As always, this is an amazing interview. Thanks so much for introducing me to a new author – I’m really looking forward to reading her books.

  2. […] inspiring WBBT interviews are: Nick Abadzis at Chasing Ray Carrie Jones at Hip Writer Mama Phyllis Root at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Laura Amy Schlitz at A Fuse #8 Production (Part One, Part Two) Kerry Madden at lectitans Tom […]

  3. Ladies,

    Thanks for this truly outstanding interview. Phyllis Root is definitely among my favorite picture book authors. “Rattletrap Car” and “Oliver Finds His Way” were two of the books I absolutley loved reading aloud to the young children in my school library. We enjoyed the refrains and “clinkety clankety bing bang pop!”

    Phyllis has a wonderful sense of humor. I chuckled to myself when reading what she said about changing diapers and declaring war…about listening to a lobbyist or a child throwing a tantrum. And her car tales? Too funny. Ms. Root is one talented author, for sure!

  4. Could there BE a better response ever to the last Pivot question, Elaine? I don’t think so. I feel like someone gave me a gift, just letting me do this interview. Phyllis is so smart and tough and funny.

  5. … picture books are performances that involve a child…
    That’s my goal when I write picture books, but I never knew it. Really. What a beautiful way to put it. And as for the rest of this interview, I think I’m going to have to go back and read the whole thing again. It is luscious!

  6. Thanks, Liz 🙂 I have read it many times myself, ’cause of all the kicky goodness in it, which is 100% thanks to Phyllis.

  7. I adore Oliver, every fuzzy inch of him. But to know that he was inspired by taking her daughter to college…waaaah! Maybe my daughter can mail me yellow leaves from her campus.

  8. Sara, I love the “tumble-down hug” phrasing on the book’s final page, too!

  9. I was lucky enough to have Phyllis as a teacher at Vermont College, and this interview does her justice! She truly is a master of the picture book — one of the very, very best there has ever been. Versatile, too. And she is a phenomenal editor; every comment or question she raised on my manuscripts seemed to elevate the project. (I see I am using lots of hyperbole here, too, but as you say, she deserves it.) Hooray for Phyllis! Hooray for 7Imp for bringing her books to a greater audience!

  10. Thanks, Elizabeth. I feel like royalty has visited our blog with her interview up!

  11. First you have that enticing name for your blog. Then you go and put thousands of interesting things on your blog. How are the rest of us supposed to get anything done with all that marvelous reading?

    Thanks for distracting me–I think.

  12. […] Zoom! I’ve already enthusiastically established here at 7-Imp in several locations, mainly my 2007 interview with her, what a picture book goddess I think she is. Well, here she does it again. Toot Toot Zoom! is a […]

  13. […] Finds His Way by Phyllis Root: New England Book Show, Juvenile Category Winner Texas Library Association 2X2 Reading List […]

  14. […] HOP! by Phyllis Root […]

  15. […] most of them taking up every inch of space. This is one to pore over. (Anyone else familiar with Phyllis Root’s Ten Sleepy Sheep, which was a favorite when my girls were smaller, may recognize Gaber’s […]

  16. […] Winter, Phyllis Root, Houghton Mifflin, […]

  17. […] STOMP!—the treesy-breezy, tilty-stilty, wobbly-knobbly woods.”– Spread from Phyllis Root’s Looking for a Moose (Candlewick, 2006)(Click to enlarge […]

  18. Big Mama is what my grandchildren have called me since forever. And I do not believe in a traditional “God”. But I do believe in powerful women and often wonder how many wars we would not have been in if mothers were involved in making the final decision. Instead of bombing, there would be stillness, refuse the offender from entering the gym at 5:00 a.m. – entry only a the peek hour, remove their assigned parking, require they submit their baby pictures, etc. What woman would send another woman’s child off to war?

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